Despite the overwhelming statistical likelihood of the LHC’s discovery, ever-skeptical scientists still wonder whether the observed particle displays all of the characteristics of the Higgs as predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics. If it does, this discovery will definitively confirm over fifty years of theoretical development; if it doesn’t, it will alert physicists to the existence of particles beyond those described by the Standard Model, paving the way for a new era in fundamental physics (and more expensive experiments).
If you’re not into grilling in Central Park, it’s something to celebrate alone, in front of your computer.
In what can only be described as an atypical installment of the World Leaders Forum, yesterday afternoon a panel of physicists and science writers gathered in Low Library to discuss “What If We Find the Higgs Particle? And What If We Don’t?” Amateur Higgs Hunter Brian Wagner was in attendance.
An uncomfortably warm—and surprisingly crowded—Low Rotunda waited eagerly for the speakers to arrive. The panel featured theoretical physicist, author, and Columbia Professor Brian Greene; Professor of Physics and U.S. Operations Program Manager of the ATLAS project at CERN Michael Tuts; Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American Mariette DiChristina; New York Times science reporter Dennis Overbye; and was moderated by Dean of Science and Professor of Physics Amber Miller.
PrezBo stepped up to the podium and introduced the panelists. Remarking on the unusual choice of topic for a WLF event, he provided the predictable justification that the answer to the titular query “could have a profound impact on the understanding of the world.” He made a joke about iPhones with his traditional dry delivery, gave Dennis Overbye the faux title of Cosmic Affairs Correspondent of the Times, and then talked about how, like NoCo, this subject involved “linking academic disciplines to face questions,” although there’s no way the coffee at CERN could be as expensive as Joe.
Amber Miller kicked things off by explaining that the audience would have a chance to “see how science works” by including a theoretical physicist (Greene) and an experimental physicist (Tuts). Essentially, the people on the theory end develop mathematical models to explain and predict natural phenomena, and then the experimenters use high-tech machinery like the Large Hadron Collider to test the models.
On the experimental side, Professor Tuts gave an explanation of the ATLAS project at CERN with the help of a fancy animated video that included models of the detector and particle collisions. Basically: groups of protons are accelerated to near the speed of light in an underground tube and smack into each other with enough force to break apart and new particles are formed. A live feed of such “scattering events” was left on the viewscreens for the remainder of the discussion—attendees were jokingly instructed to “let [the panelists] know if you spot a Higgs.”
"If you have to ask, you don't want to know" - a scientist
When they aren’t whispering stories in our ear, Professors enjoy cooking up knowledge in the lab. In this weekly feature, Propugnator Scientiae Zach Kagan gives the low-down on what scientists at Columbia have been up to.
In a new experiment neutrinos are detected to be still traveling faster than the speed of light. That’s right, the not-sure-if-trolling team of OPERA scientists from Gran Sasso, Italy have repeated their experiment and got the same results. Another Gran Sasso team have refuted the “superluminal” claims of OPERA with their own experiment. Now Bwog doesn’t know what to think, but at the very least be kind to you physics prof., that’s one hell of an existential crisis.
Any good professor knows that if you need something done, you can get someone to do it for you. Usually that someone is a grad student, but in this case it’s bacteria! Engineering prof Scott Banta is working on creating microbes that will eat CO2 and ammonia waste and crap out sustainable biofuels. On a related note, why not honor our monocellular friends by giving a giant microbe plushie this holiday season? I hear salmonella is popular.
If any of you southwesterners are nostalgic for the Dust Bowl era, it might be your lucky day. For everyone else, not so much, because according toRichard Seager of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Dust Bowl conditions “will become the new climatology of the American Southwest.” After conducting 19 different climate simulations, the team concluded that extreme droughts will be commonplace in the coming decades. Coulmbians from the southwest, now might be good time to move, or at least brush up on your Steinbeck.
In past BunsenBwogs we have talked about how W. Ian. Lipkin is a stone cold pathology fightin’ badass. Well, turns out disease never sleeps and neither does Professor Lipkin. This time he’s got Kawasaki disease in his sights. Kawasaki affects young children and causes inflammation of blood vessels, but the origins of the disease are a mystery. The latest theory is that particles of dust in the wind carry the infectious agent across Asia, so Lipkin and his team are sequencing dust samples from all over Japan to find the culprit.
If you’re from outside the tri-state area then you are well aware of the TSA and its shenanigans in the name of safety. Well, if you’re heading out on a plane back home this holiday season you better pack an extra set of lead underpants: Columbia’s Dr. David Brenner believes that X-Ray body scanners not only let TSA agents see you in the buff, but also may cause up to 300 extra cases of cancer a year.
If you give a mouse a Tevatron, and that mouse is an experimental physicist, it will ask for more money to build an enormous super collider beneath Switzerland and France, telling you that it needs more energy to confirm its theory on what makes the Universe do its thing. At least, that’s roughly how it works. On Monday, physicists, grad students, and particle lovers of all shapes and rest masses gathered in Pupin to discuss the Large Hadron Collider’s findings up to this point. Lepton lover Zach Kagan was in attendance.
Bwog didn’t quite know what it had gotten itself into—all these professors and graduate students gathered to hear the exciting new results from the LHC! This must be what a cocktail party at Brian Greene’s house feels like.
As the talk got underway, Bwog found it a lot more technical than we expected. Still, some it was recognizable: quarks, photons, antimatter, nuclear forces, atomic collisions… But this was just the beginning, and we were still waiting for the secrets of the universe to be unlocked before our eyes!
As the data began to emerge on slides for the audience to view, all that we could really distinguish was a jumble of lines. A LOT of lines. But our wonderful physics faculty came to the rescue and translated. So the Higgs Bosondoesn’t exist…or maybe it does. But it probably doesn’t. But, if we try at higher energies we may find it. But most experts don’t think so. Except for the ones that do. So that clears that up.
Then the talk moved back to quarks. Wait, no, squarks. Bwog started wondering where the speaker’s sudden accent had come from. But then we definitely heard the words “stop squark.” At that point, we were pretty convinced we were being punk’d. What the hell is a squark? Who names these particles anyway?
Then we spotted a sleeping grad student. Oh dear; if he doesn’t get this stuff what hope do the rest of us have? But towards the end of the meeting, a sense of relief flooded over us. It all made sense. The standard model of particle physics is fundamentally flawed without the Higgs Boson to provide mass. Through the analysis of thousands of PP hadron collision events at 7 TeV through myriad detectors, an intimate picture of nature is created. Gluons, leptons, Z bosons, muons, pions, interweave through supersymmetry, reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, quantum entangling you and me and everything in the universe. THIS IS HOW WE SEE INTO THE MIND OF GOD.
…At least, it made sense until the graphs came back. And the acronyms. Oh, the acronyms. We pined for a fully-spelled-out word. Was the text even supposed to be read left to right anymore? We wouldn’t know. So, in summary: If the Higgs Boson doesn’t exist, does that mean I don’t exist? Does anyone exist even? Oh, it’s over… well that was… insightful, yes, fascinating. It’s time to go lie down now.